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Komodo National Park – Here Be Dragons…

Incidental Naturalist

In 2007, a Komodo dragon killed an eight-year-old boy.  This was the first fatal attack on a human by one of the giant lizards in 33 years. “The Komodo bit him on his waist and tossed him viciously from side to side,” a national park spokesman, Heru Rudiharto, said.  “The boy died from massive bleeding half an hour later.”

This is the stuff of legends; huge reptiles capable of killing human beings, living on a remote Indonesian island. This may have been the first fatal attack for a while but it is just one of many attacks on people that have resulted in serious injury.

My childhood fascination with nature grew out of watching the behaviour of amphibians. Like many children, I learned about cycles of life by watching frog spawn become tadpoles and finally crawl out of the water on frogs’ legs. This interest naturally extended to the…

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Leonardo’s Wings

lori abercrombie

I’ve been trying to settle into an ancient history paper this weekend, but my brain keeps taking off on me.  Across my living room, the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man and The Lady of the Dishevelled Hair are all vying for my attention.  Seems I’m on a bit of a Leonardo kick.  Over the past couple years, I’ve been taking art history courses spanning from prehistory to the twenty-first century.  I’ve been running back and forth along that timeline ever since.  Every time I think ‘the Renaissance is definitely my fave!’, I get swept up in compelling stories of yet another century, another country or continent.  Maybe there’s no such thing as settling on a favourite point of history.

A few days ago I returned to the Renaissance and watched a fascinating dramatized documentary, ‘Inside the Mind of Leonardo.’   What a mind. Painter of the immortal Mona Lisa…

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Humanist Photos of Life in China

Quartz

Liu Tao, a 32-year-old water meter reader in the Chinese city of Hefei, has gained almost overnight fame as an amateur photographer. After a set of his photos went viral on Chinese social media earlier this year, Liu has been the subject of various profiles in Chinese (link in Chinese) and Western press and gained millions of followers (link in Chinese) online.

Liu says his initial inspiration was the Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama, though some of Liu’s fans say his work is more reminiscent of photographer and documentary maker Elliott Erwitt. He taught himself the craft by reading photography books and magazines and using a VPN to watch talks by photographers on Youtube, which is banned in China. Liu roams the streets of Hefei during his lunch breaks and in the evening to take photos.

His photos feature ordinary moments—an elderly man fanning himself, a couple arguing on the street, food stall operators—but…

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Do Robots Love Language? Bias and Google Translate

Loving Language

Translate Tongan? You'll have to ask him--Google Translate can't help. Translate Tongan? You’ll have to ask him–Google Translate can’t help.

I tend not to follow the mainstream. I study languages that others don’t, and I’ll often gravitate towards marginal dialects when I can. When I speak Arabic, I try to throw in a little Moroccan when I can. Speaking Russian, I might add a little bit of a Ukrainian accent. Right now, I’m learning Swiss German, which I’m afraid will irritate my standard German-speaking friends.

Google Translate follows the mainstream. It is a tool developed by a savvy business filling a commercial need. People who have and spend money need an application to conduct their business more easily. I addressed the relative value of languages in an earlier post.

Unfortunately, Google Translate reflects the mainstream. It offers the languages of the powerful, and translates using the language of the status quo without respect for what is good…

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Stones That Made Food

Bente Haarstad Photography

kvernstein_hogfjellet_cw-2

For centuries there was production of millstones in these mountains, now a national park. The production in Kvernfjellet (The millstone mountains) started sometime during the 1500s, and lasted until 1914. There have been many sites for millstone productions in Norway during history, but this was the biggest with more than 1000 quarries. For some centuries this area supplied more or less all the country with these stones.  In the 1800smostof the bread eatenin Noway was bakedfrom flourmade withthes stones, that is mica-schist scattered with 2-5mm large crystals of hard minerals. In the picture above is a broken millstone left in the mountains.

kvernstein_hogfjellet_cw-3

Millstones were needed to grind grain, our most important food source, in Norway as in so many countries. There have been a lot of scientific work on these sites lately. A multidisiplinary research project involving geologists, archaelogists, historians, botanists, geographers and…

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